Article first published as Back To The Middle Ages In Italy on Technorati.
The first Sunday of September in the afternoon, thousands of people gather in the town of Arezzo, Tuscany. The reason? The Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen), an incredibly popular medieval tournament held in this lovely old city twice a year, in July as well as September. It is said that the origins of the joust go back to the Crusades, and its popularity varied during time, before being firmly reinstated during the 1930s.
As you arrive, you really have the feeling that you have stepped back in time… A great deal of detail goes into the historical costumes, and the explosion of colours is a pure delight. Not only are the protagonists of the tournament dressed that way, but residents too. On the day of the event, a procession takes place from the dome to the Piazza Grande, starting with a blessing of the Bishop in front of the cathedral. Once everyone is gathered in the main square, the flag wavers, known as the sbandieratori, demonstrate their skills, launching their flags high into the sky before catching them at the last second. It is then time for the representatives of the four districts to defy each other. They joust in pairs, mounted on a horse, but nowadays do not throw lances at each other anymore. Instead, the aim of the game is to hit the Saracen king, a target carved in wood, trying to score a maximum of points in order to win the golden lance.
There are also several other traditional events to choose from, not only in Tuscany but also in regions such as Umbria or Le Marche.
The Quintana of Foligno (Umbria) is one of them. It was named after the 5th road of the Roman military camp, dedicated to the training of lance fighting, and was later turned into a knight jousting tournament. In 1613 it was officially instated as part of the Carnival celebrations. The first part of the event is held in June on a Saturday night, and the counter challenge the second or third Sunday of September. Ten knights, representing the town quarters, are competing. Their duty is to catch with their lance three rings of decreasing sizes, which are dangling from a gyrating statue of Mars, the Roman God of war. All this while sitting on a horse going at full speed.
Other possibilities include the Palio del Serafino in Sarnano or the Disfia del Bracciale in Treia, both located in the Marche region. The Palio del Serafino is a reminiscence of the 13th and 14th centuries that happens in August and consists of a week of processions, banquets and tournaments opposing the four different parts of the town. The Disfia del Bracciale sees teams of two players dressed in medieval costumes and sporting big spiky bracelets made of wood confront each other. The purpose of the game, played against the fortified walls, is to propel a leather ball over a high net. The match and the party that follow are the culminating point of ten days of celebrations.
Are you ready to join in?